CHAPTER V. HENRY VIII (i), 1509-27 - EGO ET REX MEUS
The closing months of 1520 arid the opening months of 1521 witnessed events of importance at the time-and one at least which had very far-reaching consequences. The Emperor's wide do-minions were disturbed by a local outbreak in Germany, a revolt in Spain, and an attempt on the part of the claimant to the throne of Navarre to recover that territory. The Diet of the Empire met at Worms, and Martin Luther was cited before it; with the result that the Empire was practically divided into two camps, Charles ranging himself on the papal side. As Henry VIII. was so far a loyal son of the Church, wielding an anti-Lutheran pen in theological controversy, while the French King's reverence for the papacy was under suspicion, the present tendency of this event was favourable to the union of Charles and Henry with the Pope against Francis. On the other hand there was very little question that the troubles in the Emperor's dominions were fostered by Francis, who was preparing for an Italian expedition. Had Charles and Wolsey trusted each other, their alliance would certainly have been drawn closer; but Wolsey was not the man to take up Charles's cause without securing an adequate return, while Charles wished to involve England on the strength of promises which he expected subsequently to find no necessity for carrying out. Charles found his justification in the unexpected success of his arms in Navarre, in Spain, and in Germany. Good fortune relieved him from the more pressing need of English aid, and thus the prospect of a close and active alliance faded.
In the late spring of 1521 there occurred in England a domestic episode which must have impressed both Charles and Francis with the power wielded in England by Henry; the first notable instance among the numerous executions marking the reign for which treason was the pretext. [Footnote: Unless we except that of Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, in 1513.] The Duke of Buckingham stood at the head of the nobility; accepted as representing the House of Lancaster, next in order to the Tudors. [Footnote: The Staffords of Buckingham on one side descended, like Henry, from the Beauforts. They were also the representatives of Thomas of Woodstock, the youngest son of Edward III. See Front, and p. 9, note.] The Duke no doubt had a sufficiently strong dislike to Wolsey, and had used very incautious language about him, and the Cardinal was popularly held responsible for his downfall, though there is no evidence that this was actually the case. Buckingham had consulted soothsayers, and was reputed to have used compromising expressions about tyrants and the succession. At any rate, he suddenly found himself arrested for high treason. The King had made preliminary inquiry on his own account - not in the presence of Wolsey - and had made up his own mind that Buckingham was to die. The peers were summoned to try him on May 10th, under the presidency of Norfolk. The depositions of the witnesses against the Duke were read; there was no cross-examination; he denied the charges, but was not allowed counsel. The decision was of course a foregone conclusion. One by one the peers pronounced him guilty; he was condemned to death, and executed. No one was found to challenge the justice of the sentence, though on a review of the evidence it is almost incredible that any human being could have honestly endorsed it. The world at large however knew nothing about the evidence, and merely accepted the judgment as final and indisputable. By a single ruthless act, Henry had practically established his own right to judge cases of treason on the hypothesis not that guilt had to be demonstrated but that the accused must prove his own loyalty or suffer the extreme penalty. For the King to entertain an accusation was tantamount to condemnation. Even to plead on behalf of such a one was dangerous: to maintain his innocence would have been a short way to the block.
By the execution of Buckingham, Henry vindicated his own authority in England while popular opinion laid the responsibility on the Cardinal's machinations. In the meantime, an impetus was given to the anti-French policy of Charles by the death of his Burgundian minister Chievres. As the summer advanced, the prospect of keeping the peace between the rival monarchs grew fainter. The parties however agreed to hold a conference at Calais, at which Wolsey should act as mediator. But matters looked as if England would be forced to take a side in a European war; and if she did so the balance of advantage to her lay on the side of the Emperor.
In August the conference met. Ostensibly with a view to obtaining from Charles himself more concessions to France than his envoys would allow, the Cardinal visited him at Bruges; where however he was really engaged in coming to comparatively satisfactory terms as to the conditions upon which Charles should receive English assistance. These included the deferring of actual participation in hostilities, and indemnification for the inevitable loss of the Tournai purchase-money, of which France had paid only a part. Wolsey returned to Calais with a secret treaty, and the conference continued, the Cardinal still making every effort to avert war; but towards the end of November it became clear that his endeavours must be fruitless, and the conference was broken up. He was followed to England by the news of Imperial successes both in Italy and in Picardy - which went far to justify Charles in his refusal to postpone hostilities for his own part. Henry, whose own predilections were in favour of war, was very well pleased with the result, and rewarded his minister by presenting him to the vacant and lucrative office of Abbot of St. Albans. Such were the conveniences of being served by an ecclesiastic.
[1522 A papal Election]